Rachel, Leah, & the First Godwrestle

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 11/18/2004

Listen to the grim humor of Jacob's weddings to Leah and Rachel. (Gen 29: 15-30) We can all but hear their father Laban muttering to himself:

"You — yes, you, Jacob!! — lied to your father about who was the first born son? Then I'll lie to you about who is the first born daughter. You won what you wanted because of your father's weak eyes? Then you'll win what you don't want — Leah, who has weak eyes.

"You learned that trickery from your mother Rebekah? You forget that she grew up here; she learned it all from me. ... And I'll teach you twice as much. "

Then the two sisters struggle over who is to have more children, their own version of the struggle for the rights of the first born. Listen to the text: their struggle is so tense that Rachel says, " "With Godlike wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed", [or, better, "have coped"].

Notice these two "pre-echoes" of the words about Jacob's later wrestle.

That verse is Gen 30: 8. Most translations evade the truth of the text, which says, "Naphtulai elohim" — and translate instead a "fateful wrestle" or a "mighty wrestle." With Jacob, they translate more honestly. Is this a matter of gender bias — a man can wrestle God, but not a woman?

So this is parallel to the Godwrestle language, parallel to what Jacob does later. His Godwrestle is more famous, but this one comes first! It's as if Rachel taught him how to do it.

This is a kind of karma. Jacob's future is mirroring his past. It is not just Laban, Leah, and Rachel who are teaching him, but all of life is teaching him, God is teaching him. He is gathering the cosmic harvest: "What you sow, that shall you reap."

Still, where is the scream about the struggle, like his mother's scream while he was yet unborn? Where is the transformation to grow from it?

That must wait until he meets his brother once again. Just as Rachel and Leah learned to wrestle God from wrestling each other in the all-too-human flesh, he must be ready to face Esau in the flesh before he can wrestle with the faceless God and name the place "God's Face."

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